Getting Started With Green Landscaping in the Mid-Atlantic
- At Home
How to Get Started at Home
Even before you begin to think of changing your landscape design, change your management practices for your existing landscape:
- reduce your use of power tools
- conserve water through mulching, adding rain barrels, building a rain garden
- compost waste
- practice Integrated Pest Management
Note site conditions such as:
- the amount of sun or shade each area gets and when, and
- your soil type(s) and drainage
Get your soil tested.
- Is it acidic or alkaline?
- Does it contain lead? (This is especially important if you plan to create a vegetable garden or if young children will be playing in the dirt. Check EPA's lead site or call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD to learn more.)
Take some measurements and make a rough map or plot plan.
- Show the shape and location of your house, including windows and doors, patios and walks, existing trees and shrubs, fences, utility lines, garages, sheds, and any other features already on your property.
- Note neighboring concerns that you might want to address such as views of unsightly structures nearby, lack of privacy from neighbors, nearby sources of noise pollution, etc., and attractive views you might want to preserve or highlight.
- Mark the location of underground utilities and overhead power lines.
- Show existing plants on your property; try to identify them by name (common or Latin) so that you can find out more about their eventual size, degree of invasiveness, and other characteristics.
- Mark north-south-east-west and the degree and direction of any slopes.
This is the brainstorming step. Do you need or want:
- places for play, sitting or outdoor dining?
- storage for cars, boats, firewood, garbage cans, compost piles?
- screening for privacy?
- a garden for vegetables, herbs, wildflowers?
- shade for buildings?
- buffers from noisy streets or strong winter winds?
Where appropriate, make note of size and other requirements (such as a flat 20' x 20' plot in full sun for a vegetable garden). Once you have your list, prioritize the items in terms of importance, taking into account their practicality given your property and your budget.
Before making a landscape plan for your property, do some homework using libraries, the Internet, arboreta, garden clubs, horticultural societies, nurseries, etc.
- complete identifying existing plants and soil types
- list native plants that will thrive in your site's conditions
- take walks through natural areas and gardens (public and private); be observant and note your likes and dislikes
- learn what plants usually are found growing together in the wild
- learn what plants are problems in your area and should be removed or not planted in the first place
- if you want to attract specific wildlife, like specific birds or butterflies, learn what habitat they require and plants they favor
- note the requirements of specific plants you want to add including eventual size so that they can be placed in the correct location
Start with efforts that provide the most environmental benefits: remove invasives, reduce flooding and erosion, reduce energy needs, reduce air and noise pollution, provide habitat for wildlife, etc. As you gain confidence and experience, you can reduce the amount of grass you have and enlarge planting beds during succeeding phases.
Sometimes green landscaping runs afoul of local weed ordinances or neighborhood acceptance. This most often occurs in neighborhoods that are highly manicured and where the owner makes a sudden and drastic change such as removing the entire front lawn overnight and planting a wildflower meadow. Before you begin such ambitious projects check local ordinances.
You can avoid problems with neighbors and others if you take some of the following measures, particularly for areas in public view.
- Alert neighbors beforehand; include the reasons why you feel green landscaping is important.
- Start small so that others can get used to the change.
- Maintain the edges of natural areas. Leave a buffer of turf or plant a neat groundcover to make an aesthetic transition. Showing that your garden hasn't been created out of willful neglect will help gain acceptance.
- Use large swatches of fewer, mostly-flowering plants along public edges. For example, a large drift of Black-eyed Susan will usually be more acceptable in a suburban front yard than a more diverse wildflower meadow.
- Erect a sign that educates the passerby or in some way legitimizes the effort, like from the National Wildlife Federation's habitat certification program.
Green landscaping isn't just for the home and, in fact, you can have more of an impact if you think larger. Public areas, including parks, roadsides and school grounds, as well as industrial establishments, commercial areas, and government managed lands are ideal places to apply green landscaping.
- Join local committees that plant trees and maintain grounds. Encourage greater use and diversity of native plants. Share the information you've learned.
- Examine local weed ordinances and development regulations to ensure they don't deter green landscaping; if they do, push to amend them or get a variance for native plant gardening.
- Identify public areas in your community maintained as lawns that might be converted to green landscaping. Galvanize public and local government support for the effort. Get schools involved.
- Identify natural areas in your community and help to preserve or restore them. Organize removal of invasive plants and replanting with native trees and shrubs.
- Create demonstration gardens of green landscaping. Recognize and reward efforts of others. Signs can help to gain public acceptance and support. Consider obtaining wildlife habitat certification for your site or community from such organizations as the National Wildlife Federation
- Start or work within an existing garden club to share expertise, knowledge and interest in green landscaping.
- Help to educate others in your community and landscapers about green landscaping. Feel free to use this presentation - GreenScapes, Save Time and Money and Have a Greener, Healthier Yard (PDF) (29 pp, 1.6MB, About PDF).
- Document green landscaping efforts by taking photos and recording installation and maintenance costs. Having information on projects that worked well can make it easier to gain approval for additional projects.